Nearly a decade ago I went to Canyon Ranch, a health spa in Arizona, carrying not only an extra 100 pounds, but also the psychological baggage of numerous failed diets. I was full of fear that I would be unsuccessful once again. Fortunately, early in my stay, I attended a lecture by an amazing therapist named Ann Pardo.
Ann stood at the front of the room, a short, squat Sicilian woman with a round face, mischievous eyes and a wild mop of curly hair. She quickly engaged the audience by saying, "Most people would look at me and think that I need to buck up and get myself to the gym, but I have just finished El Tour de Tucson, a long distance bike race over our beautiful Arizona mountain ranges."
"Don't let appearances fool you," she told us, "Fitness isn't necessarily slim. It comes in all shapes and sizes. The objective is to feel good about your body and what it can do. Find ways to exercise it that feed your soul." I took that wise message to heart, giving myself permission to bask in the serenity of nature, taking early morning walks instead of cursing with anger at my love handles, broad hips and dimpled thighs.
I was reminded of this recently while reading the recording artist Pink's wise response to being attacked by cyber bullies. She went to an event wearing a full black dress with a deep, plunging neckline, and was immediately criticized by those wishing to weight-shame her. I thought she looked beautiful but, even more, loved how she handled the repugnant criticism. Completely undeterred, she tweeted that her hubby says, "It's just more to love, baby." (Then she revealed that she often has to smack his hand off her booty when they are in a supermarket!) She went on to say that no one needs to worry about her because she feels pretty, is perfectly healthy, and that her voluptuous, crazy-strong body is having some much-deserved time off.
We women face unnecessary scrutiny regarding our bodies. Those who weight-shame will often use the excuse that they are just concerned about our health; but rather, it stems from paternal, controlling judgement. They want to feel better about themselves by putting us down, and come to the insidious conclusions that those who are overweight eat badly, don't exercise, and are lazy.
I experienced this when I was first appointed as a vice president at PotashCorp. A male colleague (and the CEO heir apparent) told me confidentially, and in a conspiring tone, that I needed to lose weight to properly represent the company. "You're not the image we want to present to the world. We want people to see us as a lean, mean fighting machine," he advised, as if instructing a child on the way to first grade. His comments hurt me and for a moment I felt defeated, like nothing about me was right, but I ignored his advice and focused on my performance. I decided that I would own my shortcomings and embrace them. That would give me the freedom to tackle the job head on and figure it out. I made it about the steak, not the sizzle, and felt good about myself every day.
A few years later I was named the top investor relations person in Canada, first by my peers and then by my clients, and I couldn't help seeing the poetic justice. My skills and performance, not a superficial, manufactured image, was rewarded as the true virtue. I accepted those awards holding my head high in the very fullness of my being.
Women must change faulty thinking that says we have to be a certain size and shape to be acceptable. Ann Pardo told us that those who weight-shame are working from the reptilian brain, which wants everyone to be the same. Those who are more highly evolved use their ethical brain, which makes decisions based on the greater good. The ethically minded appreciate diversity.
Ann also explained that we need more tenderness to live comfortably with our reptilian brain, since it will try to make us feel negatively about our bodies. "You'll never lose the weight if you look at yourself with disgust," she said.
Another wise woman, author and publishing magnate Louise Hay, gives this advice: "See yourself standing in front of a mirror looking into your own eyes and saying, 'I love and accept you exactly as you are.' And breathe. Just let yourself feel what you're feeling. You don't have to be perfect. You're already perfect as you are: You are you."
For women everywhere, it is time to love the woman in the mirror, to embrace our individuality and to celebrate our unique selves. Let's take the example of these three women who have provided the wisdom to help us do that. We will know that we have arrived when we are faced with weight shaming and feel no emotion or impact. When, like these wise women, we can say, "You're right. I don't meet your stringent guidelines, but don't worry about me. I'm not." And besides, who ever took the opinion of a reptile seriously anyway?
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